Dear Dick Hayne (CEO of Urban Outfitters),
Whilst researching the sustainability of your brand there was clear evidence that you have started to implement changes to become more environmentally responsible clothing suppliers, however there is clearly still more to be done to maximise reduction of harm to the environment as well as maintaining positive social practices.
In terms of recycling and reusing materials it is clear progress has been made, for example through your collaboration with FABSCRAP to make use of otherwise large amounts of textile waste as well as the renewal collection, yet there are still issues here. The renewal range is great in terms of using vintage clothing so new materials aren’t needing to be continuously sourced however these items only represent a small proportion of your overall stock. Packaging is another problem which thought has clearly been put into but requires further steps to be taken. Whilst instore bags may be free and reusable, they are still, as I’m sure you are aware, composed of polypropylene, an organic compound obtained from finite fossil fuels so, if the bags do break, they end up as waste plastic; a large issue which anyone would agree needs solving fast. You say you are looking to increase plant-based contact in these bags but within what timeframe will the bags be made entirely from environmentally friendly materials and what is stopping you from using them now? By the end of 2020 you also claim all tissues in gift packaging will be at least 60% post-consumer recycled content1 but why stop at 60% when you could be at 100%?
To continue on the issue of waste, online orders contribute to the plastic waste problem with each order coming in a recyclable bag but inside each individual product is in its own plastic bag and swift tags are still made from plastic so whilst you say you’re very motivated to find a 100% recycled tag, what is holding you back from going through with this now? As well as the online orders containing large volumes of plastic, your shipments in the polybags are only repurposed by 80 stores currently2. With over 600 stores worldwide I can commend the effort to start repurposing waste but still have to wonder why you have not expanded this repurposing beyond just 80 stores.
Not only do online orders create issues with plastic waste but also emissions. I can see you are making good progress in energy consumption by obtaining energy from solar farms as oppose to fossil fuel sources, therefore reducing greenhouse gas emissions in that respect but you don’t seem to have considered the impact of shipping emissions too. I would suggest carbon offsetting shipments to cover at least part of the damage caused as I can’t imagine a company as large as yourselves doesn’t have the money or manpower available to do something as simple as increasing tree cover to sequester carbon.
Even if all your products reached a level where they had no negative environmental impacts, or preferably even positively impacted the natural environment, they still cost a lot of money for what they are. Whilst you have developed a good reputation and consumers know they’re paying the price for quality products, not everyone can afford to pay these prices meaning they still couldn’t be viewed as truly sustainable as there are still significant socioeconomic barriers in the way of access to the clothing even if people want to support the practices of your brand. Furthermore, even though your clothes are mostly of a high standard and therefore will last long into the future even with frequent wearing, you continue to rotate stock and promote the latest trends, thus supporting fast fashion and not encouraging buyers to just buy what they need and keep it as long as it is wearable.
Finally, your ethics and worker right seem sound from what is available on your website with UK stores having an impressive value for the gender pay gap with male and female employees having only a small difference, with women actually earning slightly more for basic pay on average. The gender pay gap for worker bonuses in the UK of 41.9% is less than impressive though, especially when women make up over 40% more of your UK workforce3 suggesting male employees are actually more valued… I’m sure this isn’t truly your view as it certainly isn’t true however it would be nice to see numbers that agree with this equality of all workers and their value within the company to improve social sustainability.
For the sake of our planet, and all of us who live on it, I hope you will take into consideration further improving your environmental businesses standards so we can continue to enjoy the world around us, which we are all responsible for, without harming it further in the future.